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Virtual Pet Review: Radioshack Micro Dino

Currently Feeling: creative

Chrisjen Avasarala from The Expanse

Currently Listening: I don't speak German

Today's review is about a handheld virtual pet made by Radioshack back in 1997. If you don't know about these, there were three different models: the Micro Dino that I have here, a PC Puppy, and the Data Cat. You can see the packaging for those pets below:
Micro Dino purple packaging frontMicro Dino purple packaging back Data Cat pink packaging front Data Cat pink packaging back PC Puppy Yellow packaging front. I haven't been able to find an image of the back just yet

If you're familiar with virtual pets, especially "odd pets," which is the internet term for pets that aren't made by Bandai, you'll recognize that the cat and dog are apparently Nano pet clones, while the dino is different. According to what I've seen online, this one shares the same ROM as the MGA VR Creatures dino, though I haven't been able to verify this myself. You'll also notice that the cat, puppy, and dino trio are some of the most commonly made virtual pets, along with a baby/human type creature, although I don't know if Radioshack ever made one of those.

If you're interesting in seeing a ton of photos of this one and reading my thoughts about it, click through the cut to the rest of the entry.

I picked this model up at a good price on eBay a while back because, while I'm familiar with this line, they don't show up too often. This is also probably the first dinosaur I've run, yay! Expect there to be more in the future--dinos may be the most popular type of pet out there. There are a ton!

When you start the pet, you're greeted with the little guy sticking its head in and out of its egg. It beeps while it does this for a few seconds, and then you get a little tune as greeting when your dino is born.

Little dino guy walking around Little dino guy doin' a thbbbbt with his tongue sticking out

The Micro Dino has some noticeable differences between other pets. Instead of hearts, it uses meters that run across the screen, and the units are per pixel. This can be good and bad, depending: It makes it easier to take care of the pet during the day, because it takes a long time for those meters to go down. On the other hand, when they're low (like in the morning), it takes quite a bit of grinding to get them back up again. I'm not sure I have a preference one way or the other, really.

My favorite pets right now are the Gigapets, which do everything on a scale of 0-100, so it's kind of the same thing. They are more liberal with the points you get per action, though, so it ends up being less grindy overall.

This is the hunger meter This is the happiness meter This is the discipline meter

It's pretty cute! During the day, it'll walk back and forth across three screens, which are hemmed in by palm trees on both sides. You've got the same basic functions as most pets, and I think these closely match the original Tamas:

  • Eat (bread icon)
  • Light (cloud)
  • Play Game (blocks) - this is your basic left/right game and the only one the pet has
  • Medicine (first aid box)
  • Clean poop (shower) - I don't think you can wash the pet separately. Every time I've tried when there's no poop on screen it shakes its head no at me (even after discipline)
  • Stats (scale)
  • Discipline (angry face)
  • Alerts (non selectable quizzical face)

This pet does require unprompted discipline, which I know bothers a lot of people. It's not my favorite mechanic, but it is common with older pets, probably because it's much easier to program that way. The animation isn't cruel, though, just a generic angry face that turns from side to side.

He's holding his hands up and saying Yay! He does this when you win games, clean poop, etc.

After the first day, my dino turned from a little walking poop into a weird snake thing that moves like a caterpillar, going up and down, up and down. I have no idea what this has to do with dinosaurs, because it looks more like the larval stage of an insect to me. I'm sure it'll work out in the end, though. Also, periodically the pet will stop and either make a shaking head or "yay" animation based on its overall meters. This was confusing me first because I hadn't pressed anything, but I think it's just a reflection of the pet's general mood.

The next morning I woke up to a tiny little t-rex looking thing. This is stage 3, which I guess would call the "teen" stage.

Now he looks like a proper t-rex! I caught him in between happy screens here. The circle turns into a sun every other frame

I also really, really like the sleeping screen you get when you turn off the light. It features a volcano and it's really pretty and detailed:

They fit a lot of detail into this tiny screen!

Stage 4 came three days later, and my little t-rex turned from a meat eater into a herbivorous Parasaur:

His nose is cut off here, but you can see the rest of him He's blurry because he's turning around. But the animation in real life is impressively clear And here he comes into view! Isn't he cute?

I have only played through this particular pet once so far, so I don't know if they evolve into anything differently based on how you raise them. I haven't found too many instructions for the MGA pets just yet, so nothing I've seen would indicate that they do. Either way, these particular pets live 8 days total, and on the 9th day they either leave or die (I guess depending on how well you raised them). Luckily my little guy was pretty happy, so it gave me a goodbye message before heading back to the dino farm in the sky:

Stats screen reads: 9yrs, 37 g. Pretty light for a dinosaur! He left me an egg and the screen says Bye bye!

Overall I've really liked this little pet. The animations on it are cute (not counting the 2nd stage caterpillar thing) and actually pretty detailed, considering. It's also not super difficult to take care of, and tending to it was easy and pleasant throughout. I'm curious as to how this will compare to other off-brand virtual pets as I go through the others I've ordered, and at some point in the future I'll run it again to see if I get a different type of dinosaur when it grows up. Either way I won't be disappointed; I actually really liked that parasaur and I think it was really well drawn given the size of the screen it's on. If you like dinosaurs and find one for a good price, this is a good one to start out with.


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